‘The Prudent Thing is to Insulate the Governorship Primary from Dispute’

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Babatunde Irukera

As the All Progressives Congress selects its governorship flagbearer in Kogi State today, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission one of the candidates whose campaign has suffered a setback, may be exploiting other options that are open to him. He responded to questions from Nseobong Okon-Ekong before his party took the decision to exclude him and others a few hours to the contest

What is the most urgent persuasion that brought you into the race for the APC governorship ticket in Kogi State?

My most urgent persuasion is a combination of factors. First, I recognize that Kogi is underperforming, not just from the standpoint of general statistics across key indicators and comparisons of the states, but even more so when it’s strategic location and abundant resources are considered. The second is twofold; many within, and even some outside the state have repeatedly asked or challenged me to do this, with many expressing an interest to make the sacrifice to advance the state working on a team I belong in. However, persuasion and even pressure are not sufficient to make me engage in an enterprise of the magnitude of ruling a state. After much consultation and mostly introspection, I believe that I have something to offer that will be to the benefit of the people and the state.  And quite frankly, I might very well be a guinea pig of some sort to either encourage or discourage  (depending on the transparency of the processes) an important class, vital, vocal, skilled, accomplished and ready to transform the nation through the electoral process, but who nonetheless currently do not engage. Although their restraint and exclusion are understandable and justifiable, ultimately and in the end for nation and future, it’s inexcusable. If I am a laboratory rat for this, that itself is a legacy and important step in breaking the already failing glass ceiling.  Finally, governance that expands prosperity, promotes humanity and underscores our real our shared values such as probity, accountability, discretion, social justice and our other core values of old such as education, hard work, morality and proper role modeling/mentorship are lacking but possible in Kogi.

Many aspirants in the APC have come under fire from officials of the state government who are apparently supporting the reelection bid of Governor Yahaya Bello, is this worrisome to your quest?

I think it’s understandable that people serving a government are loyal to the government and possibly critical of those who are not supportive of the government. This is fine. What is worrisome is where there’s isn’t sufficiently robust self-scrutiny and deep reflection by those in government to be able to truly steer the course of governance to deliver on its purpose.  I might add too, that political criticism, and rhetoric are normal, what is troubling is fatal conclusion that seeking office that is constitutionally open to all by an electoral process necessarily means enmity. Those they serve in office emerged through same process and in the same constitutional electoral cycle. Finally, incumbents usually run on their record, so it is seemly obtuse that attacking potential candidates personally instead of defending your record. Of course, there are objective standards of acceptable behavior. If someone who aspires to public is of questionable or controversial character or fails to meet the acceptable objective standards, then it is fair game that such be subject of discussion.  Ultimately, I don’t think brickbats from appointees present any real threat to my candidacy. The audience is constituted of people who I take my message of character, capacity and record as indicators of my intention, and evidence of my capability to deliver on my promises and certainly, the aspirations and expectations of the people.

Some members of your party have approached the courts to contest the method adopted by the APC to select its governorship candidate, where do you stand-direct or indirect primary?

Being a lawyer and a litigator gives me a different, or perhaps better perspective on this. From a dispassionate view, the question is much less about a preference than it is about safety. The dispute presented before the courts potentially affects the foundation upon which our party has built previous elections in the state. The status of the law on the subject from the highest court of the land is final and led to a total loss in Zamfara, and in part why we were disallowed from fielding a candidate in Rivers.  The legally and strategically prudent thing to do is to avoid the implicated or disputed issue and insulate the primaries and our successful outcome in the general elections from the dispute. This is even more so when the party constitution also provides the flexibility to choose either process. If the legal challenge against the validity of the current party executive in the state succeeds, a primary election conducted by delegates who are ultimately determined illegal exposes the party to avoidable risk. In a direct primaries, party members vote and so the pending legal challenges will not materially affect the outcome of any direct exercise.  The current procedural posture of the cases does not diminish the need for prudence. Being undecided, it will be present a risk of what the decision could be. Even if it were decided, the constitutional right of appeal neither diminishes nor eliminates the risk, as it is customary for court decisions to operate retroactively and potentially deconstruct what was built on what the courts may declare illegal.

With the contending forces not agreeing to shift ground, what chances are there for reconciliation when the primary is over?

Again, as a litigator, the possibility of negotiated or mutually acceptable resolutions is not only almost always possible, but welcome. However, I don’t see how aspirations are openly negotiable. Aspirants coming together to choose one or the other to run instead of the other is permissible, but I don’t see that in the context of a reconciliation of differences. How the primaries are conducted will be vital to the possibility, nature and scope of existing differences.

Do you see what happened to the APC in Zamfara and Rivers repeating itself in Kogi?

Only if we do not take appropriate care and ensure we avoid the pitfalls we are confronted with as they have certain similarities with Zamfara or Rivers.

Kogi State has become notorious for fear and tension, will these reduce or rise after the APC governorship primary?

I sincerely expect it to. Some of the tension and apprehension are on account of the imminent political activities. I must add though that it is disheartening and needless that this politically motivated violence is the case in Kogi.

The rumours that Governor Yahaya Bello has majority of the delegates and officials who will conduct the election in his pocket is rife, why are you hopeful to emerge winner?

I have heard that rumour.  I am however willing to take the risk of the effort to make our politics mature. In my message to Kogi, I have repeatedly highlighted the fact that delegates don’t belong in pockets. They are trustees and custodians entrusted with the collective destinies and fates of the people. They are their delegates, not delegates of the office holder or otherwise. They should vote the minds of their communities, not the desire or aspirations of a candidate. I am not so naive that I don’t understand the realities, but those realities and all legal means to persuade the delegates is fair. Although, we seemed to characterize this practice of isolating the delegates from others is really not “camping” in reality. It’s actually detention. Camping is what people do willing or a professionally required training. While there, they engage in a programme of activities geared towards the objective of the profession. But any operation on the minds of people that restricts their liberties, free will, freedom to associate politically, and certainly the freedom to choose is suspect. It undermines the very foundation of our society and democratic process. Like I said, we must understand the realities and navigate the process while presenting a different narrative and value proposition. It, however, remains to be seen how well received both the proposition and aspirations/candidacies based on those propositions will be. I agree and subscribe to a transparent and fair method of ensuring the convenience and ease of delegates, especially logistically, but excluding them from normal interactions, especially, others who should legitimately have access is negative to our democratic growth.

Your candidacy has been linked to your liaison with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, does this provide some kind of comfort or is it a hindrance?

Any link to a brand best known for the right virtues and values must necessarily be an honor and comfort.  The Vice President’s reputation and record is a matter of national pride, and I will gladly appropriate the fame that necessarily comes with that.  Having said that, the Vice President is an extremely senior party leader, next only to the president. My interactions with him on running in Kogi and other issues underscore his broad approach to promoting fairness and a level playing field, as well as consensus around good faith acceptance in exchange for fair and transparent practices and processes that assures victory as well as build the strength and fabric of our party.

From religious and ethnic balancing to dealing with challenges of underdevelopment, how do you hope to get right what previous administrations have not?

I think some leaders have exploited our natural fault lines for selfish reasons. The whole purpose of recognizing minorities whether by race, ethnicity, religion, gender or other protected social groups is to ensure inclusiveness. Sadly, these leaders have exploited the concept to exclude others, eliminate fair contest, and narrow opportunity to themselves for selfish reasons.  These tensions have become heightened nationally and certainly in Kogi because of the political motivation of those who promote or exploit it. The current situation in Kogi demonstrates that what the people want is succor and good governance.  I doubt the people of Kogi state today will resist if it was possible to outsource management and development of the state to a foreign company, group or entity whether it be Nigerian or not, so long as the benefits, stability, prosperity and development usually associated with good governance are achieved. This makes the case for downplaying ethnicity and religion in the selection of a new leader.

Although Kogi ranks low on many indices of development and performance, it is actually possible to make it a frontline state. For rapid development I will focus on what Kogi so desperately needs and what I bring which is HELP. H-Healthcare, an honest approach to healthcare spending and a far more targeted policy approach that cuts through red tape to and simplifies access and treatment. Resourcing public facilities in large towns, while simply expanding access in the rest of the state for adequate intervention for routine basic non-communicable diseases, providing rapid emergency medical response apparatus at strategic locations considering Kogi is a gateway that’s busy for inter-state mass transportation. Pursuing increased diagnostic capabilities in at least, two major hospitals and streamlining the referral process from the more simplified intervention facilities noted earlier. In addition, increasing nurse-practitioner basic medical support and diagnostic capabilities to support doctors. They will have mobility and be able to conduct home visits in the rural areas. I will pursue assistance for every possible charitable source and donor agencies for medical missions, professional training for medical workers and equipment for increased diagnostic capacity as well as free medication for managing diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

E- this is for employment. Promote employment such as public private partnerships in waste management, and tourism asset management such as beautification and gentrification of Lokoja to be a more befitting capital. Key infrastructure development, especially roads in farmlands to open the state and ensure easy evacuation of produce. The construction and farming certainly provide jobs. Promoting agriculture and incentivizing young people to farm, first by prioritizing community relations with a desk reporting directly to the governor and a routine standing periodic community engagement from place to place that the governor himself personally attends, then supporting cooperative extension services for farming clusters. In addition, a produce board that stimulates the economy by daily purchase of farmers’ produce which government can in turn use as part of a social protection program to the poorest and most vulnerable in the state and supplies to the Home Grown School Feeding program.

L- learning leveraging technology. Many technology companies are willing to provide broadband as part of a social responsibility to depend internet use and penetration. Other companies are willing to provide free and discounted tablets and other tools so a curriculum revamp and online or remotely loaded teacher training modules while also providing easy and self-learning modules for children. Considering that the Federal Government has succeeded in a world acclaimed and respected social protection programme which includes NPower, partnering with the Federal Government to benefit from its experience and resources.

P- Prosperity. An important hallmark of good governance is expanding shared prosperity and moving citizens out of poverty.  The multiple prongs of my prosperity plan includes frugal deployment of government resources to priorities that expand the economy, not maintain the lifestyles of government officials or operatives; working closely with federal government agencies such as Nigerian Investment Promotions Commission, Ministry of Solid Minerals, and Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to fully explore the vast potentials of Kogi state from Mount Patti to the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. Specific and particular attention will be paid to the privatization/concession disputes regarding Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill to unlock the full potential of the incredible captive economy around its full capacity. Making Kogi a competitive  and attractive investment preferred location by simplifying land acquisition and streamlining local taxes, charges and fees to promote business and employment. Securing value adding further processing plants in Kogi such as cashew.

Kogi is fondly referred to as the ‘Confluence of Opportunities,’ however the state hasn’t lived up to its potentials or expectations. But in addition to, and in actualization of those opportunities, Kogi is also a ‘Confluence of Possibilities’. Leadership is what will deliver on Kogi’s true potential.

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The party constitution also provides the flexibility to choose either process. If the legal challenge against the validity of the current party executive in the state succeeds, a primary election conducted by delegates who are ultimately determined illegal exposes the party to avoidable risk. In a direct primaries, party members vote and so the pending legal challenges will not materially affect the outcome of any direct exercise